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Weekly Utilities Update: MainMenu, OnyX, iFreeMem, more...

Our Weekly Utilities Update report is a list of all the updates for many Mac utilities that have been released in the past week.

Our Weekly Utilities Update report is a list of all the updates for many Mac utilities that have been released in the past week. While utilities can be any tool that helps you perform a routine task (including image manipulation and synchronization), our main focus in this column is to bring you those that help in troubleshooting Mac hardware and software problems.

Weekly Review: iFreeMem

The amount of free memory on the system will always be the limit as to what applications can be open. When computers used to be shipped with 4 to 16MB of RAM, this limit was quite apparent, and workarounds included using virtual memory or installing utilities like "RAM Doubler" which compressed the contents of RAM and freed up more for use with other programs.

Currently computers ship with 2-4GB of RAM, and even so there are still similar limitations. Granted, computers now manage virtual memory very efficiently so you can open many more applications, but the trade-off to this is progressively more virtual memory paging until the paging process becomes a hindrance. This may happen more frequently if you run programs that inefficiently use RAM (commonly referred to as "memory hogs"), or even if you open and close a lot of programs and files, which can fill RAM caches and use up memory. Additionally, programs will sometimes reserve unneeded memory, or memory may get fragmented just like hard drives.

While upgrading RAM is the easiest solution for this, many times people either cannot upgrade their RAM capacity or do not have the means to do so. In these instances, a program like "iFreeMem" may be useful, which helps optimize how memory is used, and offers to free up much unused RAM for other applications to use. Primarily the program will actively free memory caches and prevent them from growing too large.

The application has been updated to version 3.5, and is compatible with OS 10.3.9 and later (Snow Leopard as well). The program seems to work well, and I was able to see a significant reduction in RAM footprint by the system and my open applications after running it. Granted you can always restart your computer to free RAM, but this utility seems to be a convenient alternative. Here are some screenshots of the program working its magic on my system (PowerMac G5, 2GB RAM, OS X 10.5.8):

Before running iFreeMem, I had about 255MB of available memory
The program warns you of potential slowdowns during optimization
During optimization, a progress bar is shown, and much more memory is used (this lasts about 10-15 seconds)
After optimization I now have 825MB free--over 3x what I had previously

Other Recent Utilities Updates

Keep in mind that while utilities can help in a vast majority of cases, as with any software, they can be buggy. Since these utilities were recently updated, these are actively being developed and are currently assumed to work. However, developers cannot take into account all system configurations, so be sure to back up your system before running any utilities for the first time. Additionally, double-check with the developer's Web site to be sure they are compatible with your system version. Incompatibilities with system software are the main reason why utilities and programs function improperly.

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